(Scopus umbretta)




Facts about this animal

The Hamerkop stands about 56 cm tall. The plumage is rich sepia brown all over with a slight iridescent purplish gloss on the back, and there are several darker brown bars on the tail. The West African race minor is smaller, as well as a little darker.


The legs are blackish, with feathering only extending down the upper half of the tibia. Both neck and legs are relatively short for a wading bird, so it is not surprising that it feeds mainly in shallow water. The wings are borad and rounded and in flight the Hamerkop is reminiscent of an owl or perhaps a large moth. The neck is stretched out when soaring or gliding, as in most members of the stork family, but, being a smaller and more mobile bird, the Hamerkop indulges more in flapping flight, during which its head is partly retracted in towards its shoulders.

For feeding it requires shallow water, though the shallows themselves need not be extensive and may be along a lakeshore or the banks of a large river, as well as any small streams or seasonal pools. it can frequently be found on sandbanks, mud or floating vegetation. The other requirement of the species is somewhere to build its enourmous nest. Trees are normally favoured, but other possible sites include cliffs, and rocky hillslopes.

The true affinities of the hamerkop within the families of the order CICONIIFORMES are difficult to determine. Usually it is placed between the herons and the storks, but it is very different from both.

Did you know?
that the origins of the Hamerkop are extremely obscure and nobody really knows where its nearest affinities lie, though it is usually placed in the Ciconiiformes order? Superficially the Hamerkop's bill recalls those of both the Shoebill (Balaeniceps rex) and the Boat-billed Heron (Cochlearius cochlearius), but this is normally attributed to convergent evolution. It has a pectinated middle toe as in the herons, a free hind toe as in the flamingos, egg-white protein like the storks and yet ectoparasites which are only otherwise found in plovers. To confuse matters further, its habits and behaviour are unique, leaving taxonomists with little option but to place it in its own monospecific family.


Class AVES
Suborder SCOPI
Name (Scientific) Scopus umbretta
Name (English) Hamerkop
Name (French) Ombrette du Sénégal
Name (German) Hammerkopf
Name (Spanish) Avemartillo
Local names Afrikaans: Hamerkop
CITES Status Not listed
CMS Status Not listed



Photo Copyright by
Sebastian Ritter



Range Sub-Saharan Africa and Madagascar
Habitat Wetlands of a wide variety, including estuaries, riverbanks, lakesides, fish ponds. Usually requires trees for nesting.
Wild population Common and widespread. It adapts rather well to the presence of man and is frequently seen around villages (Red List IUCN 2011).
Zoo population 200 reported to ISIS (2007)

In the Zoo



How this animal should be transported

For air transport, Container Note 17 of the IATA Live Animals Regulations should be followed.


Find this animal on ZooLex


Photo Copyright by
Joachim Huber

Why do zoos keep this animal

The hamerkop is not a threatened species, and zoos do not maintain coordinated breeding programmes. It is mainly kept for educational purposes, because of its unique taxonomic status, morphology and nest-building behaviour, and for promoting wetland conservation, ideally in mixed exhibits (walk-thru aviaries)